Earlier this month Stacy Jupiter and I headed down to Nadi for the inaugural Pacific Bêche-de-Mer and the Future of Coastal Fisheries, hosted by the governments of Fiji, Marshall Islands and Tonga and IUCN’s Oceania Regional Office. The meeting was organised with the sole hope of obtaining political will and ministerial-level commitments to take urgent, much needed steps towards the management of bêche-de-mer (term for dried sea cucumbers) and other coastal fisheries important to Pacific Islanders.
Over three days participants talked about the over-exploited state of coastal fisheries in the Pacific, and acknowledged the hard truth that if the declines we see continue, within the next two decades, Pacific Islanders will no longer be able to rely on fish for our main source of protein. That truly frightens me – that in my lifetime our fish resources will no longer be enough to feed us all.
But managing coastal fisheries is challenging. Unlike our offshore fisheries that seem to get a lot of attention and resources, our inshore fisheries are much neglected. This is despite inshore fisheries contributing to almost half of many Pacific Island countries’ GDP, and to more than 90% of our protein needs. Most participants acknowledged that we need to move away from talking about how best to further extract our coastal fisheries resources, or develop them, to how best to help them recover.
After a number of “brutal honesty” sessions (and yes they were really called this!), we started to make headway. It felt like we were taking a big step forward when I turned up to breakfast on Friday morning, and was handed a “call to action” statement for immediate review and editing. Overnight, while I was blissfully sleeping, our Pacific Island leaders continued their frank discussions and decided that they wanted to sign a “call to action,” to signify their commitment to taking political leadership and implement more robust coastal fisheries management.
To all the cynics out there, yes I know it is just a small step and we have a lot of hard work ahead of us – but it felt like an important step. I felt incredibly proud to have been a part of the meeting as I put my hopes in our Pacific Island leaders – that they would take their call to action, and do exactly that, take action. Because if they do, we will be there at their side to help and support them.
By Sangeeta Mangubhai.